Sunday, March 11, 2012

Chana Dal with Nigella Seeds

I try to eat legumes on a regular basis. As you most likely already know, they are heavyweights in the healthy foods pantheon, especially when combined with wheat, corn or rice. And when I am eating them frequently, I find that I do not need to eat meat so much. In fact, I think I might have only cooked meat two or three times so far this year. That averages out to a little more than once a month. Meatless Mondays my ass!

(Ok, now I fell the need to say that I fully support the idea that Meatless Mondays are a step in the right direction to get regular steak-and-potato folks to eat one vegetarian meal a week. And that if people eat one vegetarian meal a week, they might find that it actually tastes good and that they actually like the way it makes them feel and maybe they could eat two vegetarian meals, and even :gasp: eat it on a Wednesday! Or a Saturday. Who knows where it could end?)

Hmph. Maybe I need to eat some meat.

In the meantime, I have been perfecting my dal. This one was particularly pleasing, thanks to the addition of nigella seeds. I was not familiar with them, but I kept seeing references to them in various Indian cookbooks and spice guides, so when I saw them at Penzey's I grabbed them. And then did nothing with them for a few months.

I decided it was time to change that, so I looked them up to find out the best way to use them. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that they are used with caraway on Jewish rye bread. Who knew? It really is a small world after all.

The method that made the most sense to me was to put the seeds with the oil in a cold skillet and bring them up to heat together, so I started this chana dal that way. After the nigella seeds started to sizzle I added the cumin and mustard seeds. It worked beautifully, and there is a slightly spicy warmth that creeps up in the background of each bite.

I was especially pleased with the combination of spices in this effort. Each spice had its own presence while at the same time blending perfectly with the other spices around it for a well-balanced flavor. Of course, you might not think so. As I have worked more and more with these spice combinations, I have learned which spices I like, and which ones overwhelm my palatte, and I have adjusted the ratios accordingly. Ground cumin has a duskiness that can overwhelm my taste buds, so I always use less of that. I love the citrus tones of ground coriander, so I usually use two times the amount of cumin if I am using both in a dish. If I am using cardamom I keep it light, otherwise the perfumed sweetness overpowers the other spices.

You get the idea. If you make an Indian dish and are not happy with the balance of the spices, then you can just start adjusting them until you get the profile that works best for you. The recipe below is what worked best for me.
Home Cookin Chapter: My Recipes

Makes 6 servings

1 cup chana dal
1 qt vegetable broth or water
2 Tbsp oil
1/2 tsp nigella seeds
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 medium red onion, chopped
2 Tbsp garlic ginger paste (or 1 Tbsp of each, minced)
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
Cayennte to taste
Salt to taste
4 to 5 plum tomatoes, peeled and chopped (or 1 14.5-oz can plum tomatoes, drained and chopped, juice reserved for for other use)

Sort chana dal and rinse well, until the water runs clear. Soak in enough water to cover the beans at least 2 inches for 2 hours. Drain and rinse well.

Bring the vegetable broth to a boil in a 3-quart saucepan. Add the chana dal and bring back to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer until tender, about 40 minutes. Check periodically and add more water
if needed, but not so much, especially toward the end, that the beans are completely submerged in the liquid.

While the dal is cooking, put the oil and nigella seeds into a large skillet and then let them come up to heat over a medium-high flame/setting. When the seeds start to sizzle, add the cumin and mustard seed. As soon as the seeds start to pop add the onions, then the garlic ginger paste. Cook for about a few minutes, until the onion is translucent.

Add the ground spices and cook for another minute, continuing to stir constantly. When the spices have released their fragrances, add the tomatoes and stir to deglaze the pan. Lower the heat to a simmer and
cook until the liquid from the tomatoes has cooked out and the oil has started to separate from the rest of the mixture.

Add the chana dal to the pan. If there was a lot of liquid left, drain some of it first. Then, depending on the level of liquid still left, let the mixture simmer until it has reduced and thickened until it has
thickened to the desired consistency.

Serve with Chapatis or dill rice.

Exported from Home Cookin 6.46 (

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